In one of the greatest of all art films comes Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist; a film that combines the controversial topics of politics and sexuality into one of the most fascinating and complex character studies in all of film history. The Conformist tells the story about the rise and fall of Italian Fascism between the years of 1920 until 1943; and it also makes for an interesting contrast with the main character Marcello Clerici who has an obsession with conforming to what he sees is normal and acceptable in Italian society. He joins the Italian Fascist movement not because he necessarily believes in it, and gets engaged to a boring and dull housewife, not necessarily because he is in love with her. He just wants to fit in on what society looks at as acceptable and will live his traditional life not how he truly wants to live it but rather how others think he should. Marcello is a weak and impressionable individual; whose reasoning behind most of his motivations seems to stem from a repressed homosexual experience early on in his childhood. The story of The Conformist was based on a book adaptation by Alberto Moravia, as the structure of the film is shot mostly through several non sequential flashbacks and memories through Marcello all while Marcello and his loyal chauffeur make their drive to commit an assassination on an exiled anti-Fascist who was once Marcello's college professor. The Conformist is not only brilliant in its mysterious and complex character study of the ordinary man, but of its fascinating Freudian themes of sexuality and politics, showing how a man will mindlessly sacrifice his own individual values just to blend it with society. And yet The Conformist has some of the most extraordinary cinematography ever committed to celluloid; containing striking and breathtaking composition shots of the clothes, automobiles, architecture and the décor of the historical 1930's Italian era. The film also inspired two very iconic shots in Frances Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II; one which was a beautiful shot of leaves blowing in the wind and another of the prayer Marcello gives to his daughter, which is the exact prayer Fredo gives before his death carried out by his own brother. The Conformist says more harsh truth about politics, sexuality and the common ordinary man then most films combined, as the character of Marcello is a coward of a character that will throw other people under the bus just to get ahead and protect himself. He is a empty shell of a man who will never live a happy honest life because he can never be happy and honest with himself.
In a beautiful opening shot of the film it shows Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintigant) under a red neon light sitting down in his bed patiently waiting for a phone call. When it rings he answers and says, "Its me. Everything all right? What do you mean they're gone? You mean, she's gone, too?" Marcello tells the person on the phone he will meet them in front of the hotel and he then gets out of bed and puts on his suit and grabs his handgun. The camera pans up above the bed to show his nude wife Giulia laying in bed as he politely covers up her bottom with a bed sheet. He then leaves the hotel and gets into a car driven by his employer Manganiello as they both head out to commit an assassination attempt on an antifascist named Professor Luca Quadri who was also Marcello's former college professor.
Manganiello starts chatting away as Marcello thinks back to several flashbacks of his life. The first one is years back as Marcello is with his blind and Fascist best friend Italo at a singing rehearsal secretly meeting up to speak with the Colonnello of the Fascist government in talks for recruitment in the secret police. Italo talks about Marcello's engagement to his not so very bright fiancée Giulia and asks him what he believes marriage will get him believing he will then lose him as a best friend. Marcello answers, "I don't know. The impression of normalcy. Stability, security. In the morning when I'm dressing in the mirror I see myself. And compared to everyone else, I feel I'm different." Italo says, "It's funny, you know? Everyone would like to be different from the others, but instead you want to be the same as everyone else."
Marcello tells Italo a quick story his father once told him when he was younger. "Ten years ago, my father was in Munich. Often, after the theater, he told me that he'd go with friends to a Bierstube. There was a nutty man they thought a fool. He spoke about politics. He was quite an attraction. They buy him beer and encourage him. He'd stand up on the table making furious speeches...It was Hitler." When having a meeting with the Colonnello of the Fascist party the Colonnello tells him, "did you ever ask yourself why people want to collaborate with us? Some do it out of fear, most of them for money. For faith in Fascism, very few. But you, no. I feel that you're not governed by any of these reasons." He then tells Marcello that he will expect a reply very soon on Marcello's recruitment and the Colonnello decides to set him up to meet the minister of the party.
While arriving in Romin to see the minister in the Fascist ministry Marcello first sees the minister seducing an ideal woman of his dreams on his office table as he is watching them secretly from behind a curtain. When Marcello is eventually called up to see the minister he is given instructions to spy on his old college professor Luca Quadri. There is a spectacular shot of Marcello bringing flowers to his fiancé Guila while he walks past a war memorial. When he arrives at Giulia's parents home he and Giulia start fooling around on the carpeting until her mother walks in with Marcello feeling very embarrassed. Guila tells Marcello that they're engaged and they are doing nothing wrong.
Guila then informs Marcello while dancing to the radio that her father won't allow them to marry unless Marcello goes to communion to confess his sins. When Marcello says he doesn't believe in God, Guila says, "Who does? Ninety percent of the people who go to church today don't believe. The priests don't either." When she asks Marcello if they can make love there on the carpet Marcello tells her to think about the priest because he may not grant absolution. Guila says, "they grant everyone absolution."
That evening during dinner Guila's mother gets a letter from Marcello's father's friend which begs Marcello to not marry Guila and that Marcello's father has been placed in a mental home because of a brain injury of syphilis. Marcello tells Guila's mother he will go visit his father and work it all out. He then says, "You see, the origin of my father's mental illness isn't venereal. That can be medically confirmed." Guila's mother then comments, "By the way, my little girl has had the mumps, scarlet fever, and German measles." Marcello replies by ironically saying, "they're all very moral maladies."
The next day Marcello goes to visit his mother at her home in a decaying villa as he realizes on his drive there that he is being followed. When confronting the man following him he finds out he is Special Agent Manganiello of the Fascist government and he is there to inform Marcello that he has been sent by the Colonnello to instruct him on a job. Marcello tells him to wait outside as he walks into his mother's home finding her half-naked in bed covered with several small dogs. Marcello is there to pick her up for them to visit his father in the mental asylum. "Why doesn't he just die. All that hospital money we'd save, and I've got so little" his mother states as she goes into the bathroom to get dressed.
While his mother is getting dressed Marcello finds morphine under her bed and walks back outside to finish his conversation with Manganiello. Manganiello tells him the Colonnello wants him to head to Paris and before he crosses the frontier and he must stop at Ventimiglia and meet a man named Raoul who will then give him further instructions. Marcello then tells comrade Manganiello the morphine he found in his mother's room and informs him that his mothers Japanese servant who is also her lover is secretly supplying his mother morphine. When the servant arrives at the house Manganiello decides to rough him up while Marcello and his mother head off to the asylum. They arrive at the asylum which is shot using the outdoor assembly atop Libera's Palazzo dei Congressi in Rome and Marcello forces his unwell father to OK his wedding by signing a legal court document and afterwards saying to his mother, "read. He's not as crazy as he looks." He then asks his mother if he can be alone for a minute with his father.
Marcello then verbally attacks his father by saying, "When I was just a boy you used to tell me about your punitive forays. When you were healthy, you used a big cudgel. And did you give castor oil to them? And didn't you torture them? Didn't you kill? You killed!" His father has a sudden outburst and has to be restrained after wildly swinging the arms of his strait jacket as Marcello walks out of the asylum.
Back in the present time while Marcello is on the road with Manganiello heading towards the assassination attempt of Professor Luca Quadri, Marcello becomes outraged when Manganiello tells him Quadri's wife Anna is going to be with her husband during the hit; and when Manganiello tells Marcello that she will have to be taken out as well, Marcello angrily orders him to stop the car. When he gets out of the vehicle Manganiello orders him back in the car as the story suddenly flashes back to Marcello as a young boy.
It's during World War I and Marcello as a boy finds himself an outcast by his classmates and society. After being socially humiliated by his schoolmates young Marcello is rescued by a chauffeur named Lino. Lino offers Marcello a ride and Lino takes him to his house. When arriving at Lino's home Lino and Marcello playfully chase each other in his yard and when Lino leads Marcello into his bedroom Lino locks the door. Lino starts undressing and puts down his pistol and removes his chauffeur hat which reveals his long hair in which Marcello greatly enjoys touching. Lino starts making sexual advances towards Marcello by kissing Marcello's knees. Suddenly Marcello jumps away and grabs Lino's pistol. Lino yells, "Shoot, what are you waiting for? Kill the pretty butterfly!" Marcello starts firing the gun all over the room and eventually hits Lino. The bedroom doors blow open because of the wind and young Marcello now being scared of what he had done, jumps out of the window and runs off home.
The film then flashes forward to Marcello at confession like he promised his fiancée Giulia. When confessing to the priest the sexual act and the accidental murder Marcello committed when he was a boy, the confessor asks him why after all these years he didn't feel the need to confess until now. Marcello says, "I was 13." When the confessor keeps asking Marcello for more details on the sexual acts that happened between him and that other man, Marcello says to him, "its almost as though you think sodomy is a more mortal sin than killing somebody, padre." The priest says he won't permit Marcello for saying such insolence and says, "you are forgetting that I happen to be the priest, and you the sinner. After that once, did you have sexual relations with other men?" Marcello tells him he did not and that all other relations after that have been women.
When the priest tells him that normal means matrimony, having a wife and family, Marcello says, "That's what I found. I'm going to build a life that's normal. I'm marrying a petty bourgeois. Mediocre. A mound of petty ideas. Full of petty ambitions. She's all bed and kitchen. Normality." The priest is offended on how Marcello talks down about his wife and Marcello tells him, "I've already repented. I want to be excused by society. Yes. I want to confess today the sin I'll commit tomorrow. One sin atones for another. It is the price I must pay society. And I shall pay it."
Later on that evening Marcello is at a function by the Fascist government which is held by his best friend Italo. They are celebrating Marcello's recruitment in the Fascist secret police. The two good friends have a discussion on what being a normal man is and Italo says, "for me, a normal man is one who turns his head to see a beautiful woman's bottom. The point is not just to turn your head." His friend then explains to him why the Colonnello likes Marcello saying, "he likes people similar to himself and does not trust those who are different. That's why a normal man is a true brother, a true citizen, a true partriot...a true Fascist."
Now married to Giulia, Marcello goes to meet up with his secret contact Raoul in Ventimiglia. Before meeting Raoul, Marcello has a surreal fantasy of seeing his ideal love once again except this time it is in a brothel as he desperately hugs her letting out all his desperateness. His dream is suddenly interrupted when Raoul calls him into his office and gives him a job. Marcello is now ordered to contact his old college professor Quadri who was an outspoken anti-Fascist intellectual now living in exile in France. Marcello is told to inspire Quadri's confidence for information before finally eliminating him. When given a handgun there's a great shot of Marcello aiming the handgun in different positions looking like a young boy arrogantly playing cops and robbers while Raoul says, "it must be quick and decisive!" Marcello's ridiculousness of trying to look tough with the firearm shows when he quickly realizes he left his hat out in the hall.
Using his new marriage as a convenient cover Marcello takes Giulia on their honeymoon to Paris so he can secretly carry out his mission. On the train Giulia reveals to Marcello that she is not a virgin and is ashamed of it but Marcello tells her that he didn't marry her because of that. Giulia then goes on with a mindless story on how her first love was a 60-year-old man and a friend of the family. She then tells her husband in great detail how she lost her virginity by him at the age of 15 as Marcello erotically touches Giulia before the two of them make love on the train. When arriving in Ventimiglia Marcello calls Professor Quadri up at the hotel him and Giulia are staying at and tells Quadri he was one of his students and would like to see him.
Quadri reluctantly agrees and invites him and Giulia over to his home for dinner. As Marcello and his wife are leaving the hotel Marcello notices Manganiello keeping a close eye on Marcello to make sure he goes through with his mission. When the two arrive at professor Quadri's house his dog scares Giulia and when Quadri's much younger wife Anna comes to calm the dog down Marcello is entranced by her beauty; because she looks like the ideal woman who he always had fantasized about. (His fantasies of his ideal woman and the character of Anna are played by the same woman.) Anna serves the two of them coffee as she and Giulia hit it off as Marcello senses Anna's sudden attraction to his wife. Anna invites Giulia for them to go out shopping and dancing together while their husbands talk and Anna says to Marcello, "Shopping is only for women. Husbands pay!"
When Marcello is called into Professor Quadri's office, Quadri suspiciously asks him, "You come all this way to see me?" The scene with them together in Quadri's office is beautifully shot in the dark except for a shadow being cast with a ray of light coming through one window. Marcello talks about his classes with Quadri and his past teachings and describes to him one particular thesis Quadri made while making the unintentional salute of Hitler. The thesis Marcello describes tells an obscure story about prisoners living in a dungeon cave who were forced since childhood to bear statues of wood and stone in which they can see the shadows of a fire in the back of the cavern that imprison them. Professor Quadri finishes the story by saying, "You couldn't have brought me a better gift than these memories. The enchained prisoners of Plato. You who come from Italy should know from experience. Shadows. The reflection of things. Like what's happening to you people now in Italy. Quadri starts bringing up on why he decided to be an exile saying, "at the point we had reached there was no other choice. All we could do was emigrate. We wanted everyone to be able to feel our disdain, and our rebellion as exiles, the meaning of our struggle, the historical meaning." Marcello replies by saying, "beautiful words, but you left...and I became a Fascist." Quadri tells him a confirm fascist doesn't talk like that.
Marcello and Giulia spend the night at the professor's and early that morning Anna catches Marcello watching her. When she accuses him of spying he reveals his sudden infatuation as he pursues her and she accepts his advances. That morning when leaving Professors Quadri's house Giulia is going on to Marcello about the dresses her and Anna went shopping for. Since the two of them are in Paris Giulia tells Marcello how she always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. Marcello agrees and rudely puts her in a cab and has the cab driver drive her to the Eiffel Tower alone while he goes to visit Anna at the ballet school where she teaches.
After Anna dismisses her class Anna reveals to Marcello that she knows he is a fascist spy. She tells him, "you 're only a worm. You revolt me! You're disgusting!" Marcello tells Anna that he and Giulia will leave and take the next train home but Anna says he would never do it because he is too much of a coward. She then strips in front of Marcello and asks him to hold her saying, "Marcello, please don't hurt us. Swear it! Swear it please!" But Marcello can't make that promise.
That evening Marcello is heading back to the hotel and Manganiello finally catches up to him doubtful of Marcello's intentions and tells him he better keep on track with his job and start following Professor Quadri and not his wife Anna. When Marcello heads back to his room he surprisingly sees Anna there with Giulia as Anna is clearly being flirtatious towards his fiancée. Anna seems to be on her knees kissing Giulia's knees (which is similar to what Lino did to Marcello when he was a child) without Giulia noticing her sexual advances. When Anna notices Marcello watching the two of them from outside the bedroom; Anna smiles and says nothing.
Marcello waits outside for Anna to leave his hotel room and when Anna comes out he gives her flowers he bought her on the street. The two then embrace and Anna purposely bites his Marcello's lip while the two are kissing making him bleed; and then Anna quickly leaves. That evening Giulia lets Marcello know that Professor Quadri and Anna have a house in the Savoie. She tells him Professor Quadri is leaving tomorrow by car and his wife Anna will meet up with him a day later; which gives Marcello an idea on his plan of attack.
The next evening the two couples go out for dinner and professor Quadri is convinced Marcello is the typical new Italian. Marcello tells him, "No such type exist yet, but were creating him." When Anna angrily accuses Fascists of violence and cruelty by torturing, blackmailing and giving prisoners castor oil her husband tells her to calm down and says, "Clerici is a Fascist. I'm an Ant-Fascist. We both knew. And we decided to have supper together all the same." Quadri tells his wife that Marcello was one of his best students that he had and when Guila who is getting tipsy and obnoxious asks him what her husband was like as his student he says, "Serious. Too serious. Really...serious people are never serious."
During dinner Anna purposely touches Marcello's feet under the table while Guila's who is now near drunk starts to laugh hysterically creating a scene. Professor Quadri and Anna invite the two of them up to their house in Savoie for the weekend and Marcello and Guila both agree as the camera pans down a few tables to show Manganiello sitting and watching them them from one of the booths. Professor Quadri then asks Marcello for proof of his friendship and asks him to help him send a letter to a comrade of his. Marcello now questioning himself and his mission, he quickly gets up and heads to the back of the restaurant with Manganiello following. When Manganiello finds Marcello now questioning his duty, Marcello points his gun at Manganiello saying to him, "I don't want to kill anyone. Here. I don't want to carry it anymore." Manganiello tells him that they are in a war and if he gives up he will be considered a deserter by the fascist police.
Later that evening the two couples rush off to a dance hall and Anna offers Giulia to dance with her as the two husbands both watch. After a very sensual dance between the two women everyone on the dance floor starts holding hands with each other and they all start dances in and out of the dance hall. During the dance Marcello informs Manganiello of Quadri's getaway country house up in Savoie but tells Manganiello that he will only go though with the hit if Anna is not involved.
As the story flashes back to the present as Marcello and Manganiello are continuing their drive, the two of them now see Professor Quadri's vehicle ahead of them on a deserted woodland road. They decide to pull back to not draw too much attention. Even though Marcello originally thought Anna would not go out to the country house with her husband until the next day her husband apparently persuaded her to make the car journey. Fascist agents have conspired to stop Quadri's car with a false accident. When Professor Quadri stops his car and attempts to help a stricken driver like expected, he is then attacked. In a beautiful shot of light piercing through the trees several Fascists men run out from the woods and stab Professor Quadri multiple times while Anna realizing the danger runs to Marcello's car for help.
When Anna sees that the passenger in the rear of the car is Marcello, she begins to scream uncontrollably banging on the window pleading for help. Marcello just coldly stares at her emotionless but cowardly can't go through with killing her. Anna then runs off into the woods and several of the hit men chase her down within the woods. Manganiello is ashamed that Marcello didn't act when he had the chance and Manganiello gets out of the car and angrily says, "Make me work in this shit, sure, but not with a coward. If it's up to me, cowards, homosexuals, and Jews, they're all the same thing. If it were up to me, I'd stand them all against a wall." The Fascists finally catch up with Anna and shoot her down in cold blood.
The ending of the film takes place years later in 1943 during the fall of Benito Mussolini and the fascist dictatorship. Marcello now has a small daughter and is apparently settled in a conventional married lifestyle with his wife Giulia. When putting his daughter to bed after saying a goodnight prayer to her, Giulia tells him his former friend and Fascist Italo called and wants to meet him out on the streets. Guila reveals to Marcello how Professor Quadri confronted her when they were in Paris and told her that Marcello worked for the secret Fascist police and asked her to leave him; but she didn't out of loyalty. She is worried for her husbands safety and Marcello says, "what have I done? My duty." When asked by his wife why he wants to go he says to her, "I want to see how a dictatorship falls."
When meeting up with Italo, they overhear a conversation between two clearly homosexual men and Marcello recognizes one of them as Lino, who attempted to seduce him when he was a boy. Marcello publicly denounces Lino as a homosexual, Fascist, and for participating in the murder of Professor Quadri and his wife yelling, "Lino! You were a chauffeur, right? You had a pistol. And you're still alive. What were you doing on March 25, 1917? What were you doing at 4:00 p.m. on October 15th, 1938? I've got to know. Murderer! Murderer! He killed a man, a political exile, on October 15th 1938! Yes, Professor Quadri! Luca Quadri! And his wife Anna Quadri! He's a homosexual, a Fascist! And his name is Pasqualino! Pasqualino Semirama!"When Italo begs him to stop being hysterical Marcello starts denouncing his best friend calling him a fascist. As a crowd sweeps past taking Italo with them Marcello is left alone, unaccepted by the people of the new partisan political movement, and having spurned his former friend as he sits near a small fire and looks intently behind him at the man Lino was previously talking to.
Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist is a case study in the psychology of fascism: Marcello Clerici is a bureaucrat dehumanized by a dysfunctional middle class family and a childhood sexual trauma. He accepts an assignment from Benito Mussolini's secret police to assassinate his former mentor, living in exile in Paris and Marcello is willing to sacrifice his values in the interests of building a so-called "normal life. According to the political philosopher Takis Fotopoulos The Conformist is "a beautiful portrait of this psychological need to conform and be normal at the social level, in general, and the political level, in particular." The filming locations included Gare d'Orsay and Paris, France; Sant' Angelo Bridge and the Colosseum, both in Rome. According to the documentary Visions of Light the film is widely praised as a visual masterpiece. It was photographed by Vittorio Storaro, who used rich colors, authentic wardrobe of the 1930s, and a series of unusual camera angles and fluid camera movement.
Film critic and author Robin Buss writes that the cinematography suggests Marcello's inability to conform with "normal" reality: the reality of the time is abnormal. Also, Bertolucci's cinematic style synthesizes expressionism and fascist film aesthetics. Its style has been compared with classic German films of the 1920s and 1930s, such as in Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda documentary Triumph of the Will and Fritz Lang's sci-fi silent masterpiece Metropolis. The film premiered at the 20th Berlin International Film Festival in June 1970. It opened on a wide release in Italy and the United States on October 22, 1970. The first American release of the film was trimmed by five minutes compared to the Italian release; the missing scene features a group of blind people having a dance during the dancehall scene and was then restored in the 1996 DVD reissue.
Bernardo Bertolucci is considered one of the most unique Italian directors of the last 40 years. After his acclaimed breakthrough with his masterpiece The Conformist he followed up with one of the greatest sexual and most controversial films of the 70's with Last Tango in Paris starring the legendary Marlon Brando in one of his greatest performances. He then created 1900, his magnum opus which was a 5 hour Italian epic starring Robert Deniro and Burt Lancaster. The film chronicles the lives of two men during the political turmoil's that took place in Italy in the first half of the 20th century; and when first released was not received well by critics; but now is considered a modern classic. He then released the critically acclaimed The Last Emperor which was a biopic on the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. The film won several international awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Marcello is a very sad and pathetic character and because of the guilt by an attempted homosexual seduction when he was twelve which was climaxed by shooting him, he in turn pursued the illusion of adequacy. He decides to marry a girl who is so common and not too bright and clearly does not mind to combine his honeymoon in Paris with an assignment by the Fascists police to murder his former professor. In an interesting moment in the film Marcello's blind friend Italo who is another Fascist, points out that they are alike, and that the Fascist organization gravitates toward their kind of personality; which is really no personality at all. Which is interesting since Marcello's ideal woman and sudden infatuation with the professor's wife Anna is a character who is the exact opposite. Where Marcello is a mindless drone who follows orders just to fit in to what is acceptable to society, Anna is a fighter who independently thinks for herself and has personal goals and causes she personally believes in.
Interestingly enough Anna accepts Marcello's advancements towards her (in which I think is a way for her to stall her husbands assassination,) and it shows that she is more in love with Marcello's absurd wife Giulia. Marcello can see the attraction that Anna has towards his wife where Giulia naïvely does not because of her small-minded thinking in many ways resembles more of a child. Except for professor Quadri and his wife Anna, every character is a sort of prisoner in the film but the surest prisoner of all is Marcello. Right from the beginning of the film Marcello admits he wants to live a life going unnoticed and blend into the background. He admits marrying Giulia not because he loves her but because she is so dull and boring. He even mocks her to the confessing priest by calling her “all bedroom and kitchen”, and joins the fascist organization as a killer and spy, even though he doesn't even believe in the cause he is fighting for.
The more I watch The Conformist the more I loathe and pity the character of Marcello. In the beautiful opening shot in the honeymoon suite in Paris, Marcello is sitting in bed waiting for the phone call to leave for his assassination hit. He sits there calmly waiting like a film noir character, not bothering to cover up the bottom of his wife beside him who technically is his whore that he uses as a prop to be labeled as normal. It's embarrassingly hilarious where he finally is given a handgun by the Fascist government and how he models himself with the handgun as he tries to look tough believing he is some cowboy or some legendary freedom fighter from a movie. When it all comes down to it, he is a fraud who cannot even be a murderer as much as he truly wants to. Marcello is the type of person who will root for the winning team and will vote for a certain politician not because he truly believes in their views but because he knows in the end they will be the victor.
I am not sure if Marcello is a repressed homosexual but he is clearly a repressed bisexual who is very ashamed and embarrassed about it. Lino the chauffeur in his childhood has a certain female allure with his long hair and his tender touches and caresses. Marcello's attraction for Anna is interesting because he has clearly fantasized about her before he even met her. Anna is the woman of Marcello's dreams and he admires everything about this woman because she is everything Marcello isn't. Anna is a strong-willed, intelligent thinker who fights for what she personally believes in; and would never conform herself to any government or human being. She also expresses several masculine traits and is clearly confident in her bi sexuality in which she proudly expresses with Marcello's wife most famously shown in the dancehall. Anna is the type of person who accepts her free sexuality not caring how society thinks of it, which is a clear contrast to Marcello who won't recognise his homosexual feelings and chooses to not accept them. In many ways the character traits that Marcello embodies is similar to the character traits of the character of Michael Corleone in Frances Ford Coppola's masterpiece The Godfather which was released two years later (and which The Conformist clearly had much of an influence on.) The Godfather is another story in which the central character is faced with trying to not be different and conforming to be like the rest of his family; in which overtime makes him a soulless and loathing character.
Bertolucci always focused on themes of complex Freudian sexual interpretation and focuses it in many of his other films; most famously in Last Tango in Paris. In one of the most interesting visually striking scenes of the film where Marcello and his mother visit his father in a mental asylum (which looks more like a surreal Greek courtyard arena), Marcello seems to go on a rant on the crimes his father committed in the past which sound very similar to the crimes the Fascist government are accused of committing. Bertolucci had said in an interview that "movies that I had made before the Conformist were movies, directly, straight from life. And the Conformist, I think now, was more a movie coming from life...plus cinema." Besides Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci never again made a film so masterful, challenging, and beautiful. Critic James Berardinelli wrote a review of the Conformist writing, "Storaro and Bertolucci have fashioned a visual masterpiece in The Conformist, with some of the best use of light and shadow ever in a motion picture. This isn't just photography, it's art — powerful, beautiful, and effective. There's a scene in the woods, with sunlight streaming between trees, that's breathtaking to behold — and all the more stunning because of the brutal events that take place before this background." Kevin Thomas, of the Los Angeles Times said, "In this dazzling film, Bertolucci manages to combine the bravura style of Fellini, the acute sense of period of Visconti and the fervent political commitment of Elio Petri — and, better still, a lack of self-indulgence...The Conformist, which memorably costars Dominique Sanda as a sexually ambiguous beauty, is not merely an indictment of fascism — with some swipes at ecclesiastical hypocrisy as well — but also a profound personal tragedy." The Conformist is considered one of the most beautifully shot films of all time and is now considered one of the greatest films in the world ranked #85 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. The Conformist is a timeless classic and it says more truth about politics, sexuality and the common ordinary man then most films combined. Marcello is a coward of a character that will throw other people under the bus to protect himself to get ahead in life. He is a empty shell of a man who will never live a happy honest life because he can never be happy and honest with himself. Sadly there are a lot of people who are very similar to the character of Clerici Marcello; in which they mindlessly go towards the popular trend or what society at that moment is currently interested in. Many people will usually have others or the media make the decisions for themselves and will agree with others opinion on what is right or wrong without doing their own research and clearly thinking for themselves. Sadly most people live their life not knowing they are probably following the typical generalizations of their race and culture. A lot of people choose to listen to the same music as everyone else depending on there demographic, will mindlessly believe in the religion they were raised up on as a child, will usually vote for the same politicians as their friends and family and do whatever they can to be accepted and fit in within there chosen group of friends, class and society. Very rarely does an individual look outside of the box and open there minds up to different things or different points of views; which unfortunately makes most people predictable mindless drones.